King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has died at the age of 84. His half brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, had been named be his successor. Fahd had been Saudi Arabia’s ruler since 1982 though he delegated much of his power 10 years ago to the Crown Prince after he suffered a stroke. King Fahd had close relations with Washington. In 1990, Fahd allowed the Pentagon to station hundreds of thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia ahead of the first Gulf War. The move was heavily criticized by many inside the Saudi kingdom including Osama Bin Laden. At the same time, analysts say Fahd helped fuel the rise of Islamic extremism by making multiple concessions to hard-liners, hoping to boost his Islamic credentials.
Meanwhile in Africa, the newly sworn-in vice president of Sudan has died in an helicopter crash. John Garang DeMabior died along with 13 others. Garang is a former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Earlier this year he signed a deal to end Africa’s longest civil war. Just three weeks ago he was sworn in as vice president. On that day he said "My presence here today in Khartoum is a true signal that the war is over." UN officials are reporting that following the announcement of Garang’s death, bloody street clashes erupted between Christian and Arab groups in Khartoum.
In Iraq — the head of a committee drawing up the country’s new constitution announced today that the new charter will be completed by its August 15th deadline. A leaked draft of the constitution indicates that it may call for Islam to be the main source of Iraqi law and the official religion of the state. Women’s groups in Iraq have expressed fear they might lose many rights that they have held for decades in Iraq.
Investigators in Britain and Italy are now questioning 21 people in connection to the failed July 21st bombings. One of the men–Osman Hussain–was arrested in Italy and has admitted to being one of the would-be bombers. He is expected to be extradited to Britain. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica is reporting that Hussain told investigators that the bombings were motivated by anger over Iraq, rather than religious reasons. Hussain told interrogators "More than pray, we used to discuss work, politics, the war in Iraq. Muktar always had new films on the war in Iraq. He used to show us specially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers, and also of widows, mothers and daughters that cry."
Meanwhile back in this country, a former CIA officer has sued the agency claiming that he was wrongly fired for questioning the agency’s view that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In 2001–a year before the Iraq invasion — the officer reported that an informant told him that Iraq had abandoned its uranium enrichment program. However, the CIA officer charges that the agency never shared the information with other agencies or with senior policy makers. The officer–who had worked for 20 years at the agency–was fired last year. His attorney compared his case to that of Valerie Plame–the CIA agent who was outed after her husband Joseph Wilson questioned the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation of Niger. The former CIA agent’s lawyer, Roy Krieger, said, "In both cases, officials brought unwelcome information on W.M.D. in the period prior to the Iraq invasion, and retribution followed."
Former President Jimmy Carter has called the Iraq war "unnecessary and unjust" and criticized the Bush administration for its handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Speaking at an international Baptist convention in Britain, Carter said, "I think what’s going on in Guantanamo Bay and other places is a disgrace to the U.S.A." He went on to say "I wouldn’t say it’s the cause of terrorism, but it has given impetus and excuses to potential terrorists to lash out at our country and justify their despicable acts."
In other news on Guantanamo, the New York Times is reporting that two government prosecutors complained last year that the military commissions being set up to try detainees were little more than kangaroo courts. The prosecutors complained that the trial system was being secretly arranged to improve the chance of conviction and to deprive defendants of material that could prove their innocence. According to the Times, the prosecutors alleged that the chief prosecutor had told his subordinates that the first four defendants members tried by the military commission would be "handpicked" to ensure that all would be convicted.
Meanwhile Newsweek has obtained a leaked FBI memo that questions the legality of the Bush’s administration policy of extraordinary rendition where the government transports seized individuals and sends them to foreign countries that practice torture. The memo was written three years ago by the FBI supervisor then assigned to Guantanamo. In the memo, the FBI agent wrote that sending detainees to such countries that practice torture would be in violation of the U.S. torture statute. Newsweek reports that intelligence officials are now estimating that more than 100 individuals have been rendered to foreign countries by the CIA since Sept. 11.
The Bush administration is taking new steps to help take down Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has named Caleb McCarry to fill a new post called the Cuba Transition Coordinator. According to Rice, McCarry’s job duty will be to "accelerate the demise" of Castro’s government. Meanwhile, Roger Noriega, has resigned as assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs. His resignation came one day after McCarry was picked to be the administration new point person on Cuba. Noriega had been one of the Bush administration’s fiercest critics of Cuba and Venezuela.
In other news on Cuba, a group of 130 U.S. residents are scheduled to return to the United States today after visiting Cuba on a trip to deliver tons of humanitarian aid and hurricane relief. The visit was organized by Pastors For Peace and the Veneceremos Brigade. Members of the delegation could now face arrest when they try to cross into Texas.
A new scandal is hitting the Catholic Church — this time in Toledo Ohio. The Toledo Blade is reporting that police in the city helped the local Catholic Diocese cover up sex abuse allegations for several decades, by refusing to investigate or arrest priests suspected of molesting children. The paper based its report on interviews with former officers and a review of court and diocese records. One former police chief reportedly had an unwritten rule that priests could not be arrested.
And a new Justice Department report has found there were at least 8,000 reported incidents of rape, sexual abuse or sexual harassment inside the country’s prisons and jails last year. And the department acknowledged the actual number of incidents could be much higher. Nearly 42 percent of the reported allegations of sexual violence involved staff sexual misconduct toward inmates. Meanwhile 37 percent involved nonconsensual sexual acts by inmates on fellow prisoners. The report marks the first time the Justice Department has issued a statistical report on prison rape.